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Full text of "That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity & Anarchism"

THAT HOLY ANARCHIST 



REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTIANITY & ANARCHISM 



Mark Van Steenwyk 



Written by Mark Van Steenwyk 



ISBN 0-6156-5981-O 



Scripture quoted by permission. All Scripture is from the NET Bible® 
copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. 



We are using the NET Bible because we support open and free Bible 
translations. Bible distribution should not be driven by profit 
motive. 



Design by Mark Van Steenwyk 



This book is not copyrighted. It was first published in 2012. 

Missio 




Dei 

2717 South 8 th Street 
Minneapolis, MN 55406 



Discounted copies available upon request. 



Contents 



Preface 7 

Foreword 8 

1. Jesus and the unKingdom of God 12 

2. Definitions 15 

3. Anarchic Impulses in Christian History 22 

4. Anarchic Impulses in Scripture 33 

5. Tensions 50 

6. The unKingdom of God is Here 61 



To my son Jonas 

who comes by anarchism naturally 

and my wife Amy 

who shows me the love of Christ 



"That holy anarchist who 
summoned the people at the 
bottom, the outcasts and 
"sinners," the chandalas within 
Judaism, to opposition against the 
dominant order— using language, 
if the Gospels were to be trusted, 
which would lead to Siberia today 
too— was a political criminal 
insofar as political criminals were 
possible at all in an absurdly 
unpolitical community. This 
brought him to the cross..." 

Nietzsche, the Antichrist 



A Little Preface for a Little Book 



This little book grew out of a series of articles I wrote for 
Jesus Radicals (www.JesusRadicals.com), which in turn 
grew out of a primer I've presented at the annual Jesus 
Radicals conference. Some of the ideas were fleshed out 
with the help of Sarah Lynne Anderson— my friend and 
fellow community member at Missio Dei in Minneapolis. 

There are few resources available to folks exploring the 
intersection of Christianity and anarchism. This is 
strange, given the popularity of a number of people who 
described themselves as both: Dorothy Day, Jacques Ellul, 
Simone Weil, Leo Tolstoy, Peter Maurin, and more. The 
resources that do exist are either academic, expensive, 
laboriously long, or written by long-dead Russians. 

I offer this book to respond to a need. I don't assume it is 
either definitive or adequate. I simply offer it to spark 
conversation and help people dig deeper into the anarchic 
implications of the way of Jesus. 



Forward 

BY CHED MYERS 

One of the central challenges of forging peace, justice and 
freedom in our time is to experiment with political models 
that promote the dispersal, rather than the increasing 
concentration, of power. This is also an ancient, if 
forgotten, vocation of the church. 

It comes as a surprise to most contemporary Christians 
that the first form of social organization indigenous to the 
Israelites in the Hebrew Bible was a tribal confederacy 
that bears some resemblance to "anarcho-syndicalist" 
vision in modernity. It seems that ancient Yahwists 
exhibited a profound antagonism toward the centralized 
political economies and cosmologies of the Babylonian, 
Egyptian and Canaanite city-states in whose shadows they 
dwelled. This bias can be seen, for example, in the 
ancient folktale parodying the Tower of Babel Genesis 11, 
in which the social conformity of centripetal empire was 
deconstructed by the Creator's centrifugal "scattering" of 
humans into the more sustainable social ecology of 
diversity. 

Early Israel was, as pioneer scholar Norman Gottwald 
famously argued, "a risky venture in 'retribalization'" in 
the highlands of late Bronze Age Canaan. These early 
Hebrew experiments in building what this booklet calls an 
"unkingdom" eventually succumbed to the monarchic 
Temple-State of David and his successors. Even during 
this royal period, however, the suspicion of State 
authority survived among both Israelite historians and 
prophets (see e.g. I Samuel 8). There is no other 
historiographic tradition ancient or modern, claimed 
theologian Jacques Ellul, that is as critical of centralized 
power as the Hebrew Bible, which articulates "in an 
astounding way the constancy of an antiroyal if not an 



antistatist sentiment." Moreover, within only a few 
generations, Israel's dalliance with imperial imitation led 
to civil war, disastrous external political alliances, and 
finally conquest and exile. 

Jesus of Nazareth sought to resuscitate not only his 
people's radical tradition of the exclusive sovereignty of 
Yahweh (Mk 1:15), but the memory of the old tribal 
confederacy as well. Why otherwise would he organize 
his movement around twelve disciples named on a 
mountain (Mk 3:13-19), and specifically enjoin 
leadership-as-servanthood as the alternative to the 
prevailing politics of domination (Mk 10:42-45)? It was 
this "unking"— who embraced cross instead of sword, and 
who was executed as a dissident by the authorities only to 
defy their seal on his tomb by rising from the dead (Matt 
27:64-66)— whom the early church addressed with the 
indivisibly political title of "Lord." 

Mark Van Steenwyk is haunted by such resonances 
between Christianity and anarchism, and this book seeks 
to investigate them. Making this case seems perhaps 
Quixotic on the heels of more than 17 centuries of 
Christendom, in which churches routinely rode shotgun 
with empire. It is nevertheless the case that there is too 
much counter evidence of anarchist "tendencies" (as Van 
Steenwyk puts it) in both the Bible and church history to 
simply dismiss. This essay thus explores the intersections 
between these two dissident traditions. 

The times, after all, demand political (and theological) 

imagination. Our 21 st century global body politic faces the 
crisis, anticipated three generations ago by Lewis 
Mumford, of "super-congestion." With our putative 
democracies losing ground each year to the centripetal 
forces of politico-economic centralization and global 
technocracy, centrifugal demands for self-determination 
and political "devolution" are growing. The structural 



solution to over-concentrated power is to train ourselves 
how to organize and advocate for our concerns with the 
goal of radically decentralizing political decision-making 
—which has most recently been embodied in the Occupy 
movement. 

In their classical statist expressions, both liberal 
capitalism and communism have anathematized the 
politics of local empowerment. This has led many to look 
instead to the 19th century revolutionary movements of 
cooperative socialism and anarchism. Anarchism may 
have peaked as a modern political force in the period 
between the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Spanish Civil 
War in the late 1930s. But there was a notable revival of 
anarchist ideas and tactics in the New Left movements of 
the 1960s, and over the last 15 years they have again 
captured the imagination of many First World anti- 
globalization and environmental activists— not to mention 
radical Christian groups. 

I agree with those who contend that anarchism is to 
Marxism-Leninism what Anabaptism was to the 
magisterial Reformation: a revolutionary movement 
predicated upon negating, rather than seizing control of, 
state power. Just as the Anabaptists were scorned by 
Protestants and Catholics alike, anarchism been 
dismissed equally by the political Left and Right in 
modernity. But in our age of political bankruptcy, this is 
perhaps the best endorsement. With Ellul, I think that 
anarchism deserves to be reconsidered, particularly by 
Christians, and even more particularly by contemporary 
Anabaptists. 

This booklet represents such a reconsideration. It 
emerges from a new generation of Christian dissenters 
who are properly disillusioned, but not despairing. The 
author is the genial pastor of an alternative urban 
community in Minneapolis that is affiliated with the 
Mennonite Church U.S., and a member of the collective 



10 



behind JesusRadicals.com. I hope his overview of 
biblical "retribalizing politics," modern anarchism, and 
the concluding proposal for "Christo-anarchism" will 
encourage and inspire younger activists (Christian, 
anarchist, or both) to move beyond sloganeering to a 
deeper, engaged conversation at this critical intersection 
of faith and politics. 

Jesus' last parable in Mark's gospel completes a circle of 
discourse opened by his first. His inaugural parable 
promised to "plunder" a "House" (symbolizing the Judean 
body politic) that was captive to the "Strong Man" (a 
metaphor for Empire; Mk 3:27). Mark's Jesus later 
"exorcised" that House (11:15-17), then called for its 
deconstruction (13:2). He pointedly closed his last 
sermon by envisioning a House in which 
"authority/power" (the word is the same in Greek) is 
distributed to a multiplicity of servants, "each with their 
own task" (i3:34ff; Gk dous tois doulois autou ten 
exousian). 

It is an image that captures succinctly the anarchist vision 
—a "heresy" which may yet be a key to the renewal of 
church and society. 



11 



Jesus and the unKingdom of God 



Traditional kingship (with absolute power, hoards of 
wealth, and power over the weak) has nothing to do with 
Jesus; it's something Jesus rejected. 1 Traditional kings 
demand allegiance and servitude, but Jesus offers 
liberation— from suffering, sickness and death, exclusion, 
persecution, and sin. Jesus is a "king" who serves the 
"least of these", and who finally receives torture and 
execution to bring freedom to others. 

As we see in the Gospels, Christ's kingship is inconsistent 
with traditional structures of power; and for this reason, 
Jesus tells Pilate that "My kingdom is not from this 
world" (John 18:36). Passages like these have, 
unfortunately, fostered an ineffectual other-worldliness 
among Christians. And they have been used to legitimate 
"real-world" kingdoms. Jesus rules some magical sky- 
kingdom, while princes and emperors can dominate flesh 
and land. 

But Jesus' reign isn't other-worldly. It isn't apolitical. It's 
just political in a radically different way. Rather than 
taking Caesar's throne (or any throne— including the one 
Satan offered him 2 ) Jesus is saying that Caesar's days are 
numbered. By saying "my kingdom is not from this world" 
he isn't saying "my kingdom is only spiritual, so you don't 
have to worry." 3 Jesus' kingship renders Caesar's obsolete. 



1 See John 6:15. 

2 See Matthew: 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 

3 A number of scholars have successfully made this point. For 
example, N.T. Wright argues "The sentence should not be 



12 



It isn't a mere "trumping" as though Jesus is simply 
greater than Caesar; it is an entirely different sort of 
kingship. 

As heirs to Jesus' kingdom, we are ambassadors of the 
new reign, privileged to share the mercy, love, peace, and 
justice of Christ with the world. In the early days— the first 
century of the Jesus movement— the church was invisible 
to most people in the Roman empire. However, they had a 
growing reputation as an alternative and seemingly anti- 
social community that lived in the nooks and crannies of 
Empire. 

Christians were thought to be extreme, subversive, 
stubborn, and defiant. The Roman writer Tacitus called 
them "haters of humanity." They rejected the central 
facets of Roman religious and political life. In his view 
they actively undermined society with their indifference 
to civic affairs. Some critics even blamed Christians for 
the fall of Rome. 

So, when Jesus said his kingdom wasn't of this world, he 
wasn't understood by Pilate or by the Jews or by his 
earliest followers as talking about the afterlife or some 
abstracted spiritual truth. Based upon the lethal response 
to Jesus (and the early reactions to Jesus' movement), the 
"Kingdom of God" was understood as a challenge to 
Caesar and his reign. Their two kingdoms clashed. 



read as referring to an other-worldly, Platonic, non-physical 
kingdom. It designates Jesus' kingdom as the breaking into 
the worldly order of a rule which comes from elsewhere, 
from Israel's God, the creator God. It does not mean the 
abandonment of the created order and the escape into a 
private or 'spiritual' sphere. On to the scene of worldly power 
- precisely there, or it is meaningless! - has come a new 
order of sovereignty, which wins its victories by a new 
method." N.T. Wright, "The New Testament and the 'State'" 
Themelios 16.1 (1990): 11-17. 



13 



The kingdom of God that Jesus announced and embodied 
is what life would be like on earth, here and now, if God 
were king and the rulers of this world were not. Imagine if 
God ruled the nations. 

But in order to imagine that, we'd need to recognize that 
Jesus' kingdom isn't the sort that one holds with an iron 
fist. Rather, it is an unkingdom. 4 Despite our images of 
God, I'm not sure that God is interested in either 
hierarchy or control. For where the President of the 
United States insists on a troop surge, Jesus calls people 
to love their enemies. Where dictators seek to secure their 
own power and prestige, Jesus calls people to serve one 
another and lay down their lives for friends. Since Jesus is 
(as Christians believe) the truest revelation of God, then 
he defines for us what the reign of God looks like. 

The social, economic, political, and religious subversions 
of such an un-reign are almost endless— peace-making 
instead of war mongering, liberation not exploitation, 
sacrifice rather than subjugation, mercy not vengeance, 
care for the vulnerable instead of privileges for the 
powerful, generosity instead of greed, embrace rather 
than exclusion. 

Jesus is calling for a loving anarchy. An unkingdom. Of 
which he is the unking. 



I am indebted to my friend Jason Evans for first introducing 
me to the idea of seeing Jesus as an "unking." 



14 



Definitions 



This book explores the intersection of Christianity and 
anarchism. Most people think such a combination is an 
impossibility (or a delusion). But it would be a mistake to 
suggest that bringing the two together is mere novelty. In 
fact, you can trace some amazingly anarchistic sentiments 
throughout church history. And you can find Christians 
among many anarchist collectives. The relationship may 
be strained, but they have always been on speaking terms. 

Most of the negative reactions to this interplay are based 
upon misunderstandings. It is commonly understood that 
anarchism is for angry youth who long for chaos and 
disorder. 

And if anarchism is about chaos, Christianity is about 
order. Oppressive order. It is commonly understood that 
Christianity is (and always has been) about domination. 

Both of these are unfortunate stereotypes that, while 
having some basis in reality, are grossly over-simplified 
dismissals (though, in all fairness, it is easier to find 
evidence for the oppressiveness of Christianity than it is 
for the chaotic immaturity of anarchism). 

Anyone who has called themselves a "Christian" or an 
"anarchist" for very long can tell you that neither 
"tradition" is easy to define. Neither is monolithic. And 
both are profoundly misunderstood. So talking about how 
they relate is a complicated task. 



15 



Defining "Anarchism" 

Defining anarchism is problematic (to "define" something 
often implies the authority to do so, after all). 
Nevertheless, for sake of clarity, I will offer my best 
attempt at a reasonable definition. "An-arch" means 
contrary to authority or without ruler. So "anarchism" is 
the name given to the principle under which a collectivity 
—a group of people— may be conceived without rule. 
Specifically, anarchism is traditionally understood to be a 
critique of the "state" while promoting a stateless society. 

That is the basic text-book definition. Most anarchists go 
further, trying to name those things that oppress or give 
the State its power and, therefore, seek to reject or 
undermine other forms of static authority in human 
relations. Some extend that beyond human relations. 
Furthermore, in recent years, anarchist organizing has 
increasingly focused on economic concerns. ..suggesting 
that there are things more powerful and oppressive than 
the State. Hardt and Negri 1 (and others) point out that our 
modern iteration of "empire" is super-national, being 
driven by international banking and super-corporations. 
It would be fair to say that anti-capitalism or anti- 
globalization are as important (or, perhaps, even more 
important) than being against the State. 

At the same time, there are others who call themselves 
anarchists that embrace free markets. Most anarchists 
(rightfully) reject such "anarcho-capitalists" as not 
anarchist at all. Anarchist thought grew out of the same 
soil as Marxism. This only hints at the complexity of 
defining anarchism. ..which has led to a number of 
hyphenated terms like anarcha-feminism, anarcho- 
syndicalism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-primitivism, 



l Their book Empire is a significant contribution to 
understanding the nature of postcolonial imperialism. 

16 



post-anarchism, and so on. Different flavors represent 
different understandings of either the roots of oppression, 
the tactics for resisting oppression, or both. Most of these 
critiques are not mutually exclusive. 

Most anarchists today aren't interested in simply 
subverting the State— which is, perhaps, the focus of 
criticism for classical anarchism. It is important to 
recognize the intersection of various forms of oppression. 
Elisabeth Schiissler Fiorenza coined the helpful term 
"kyriarchy" (from the Greek word kyrios, which can 
signify the domination of the emperor, lord, master, 
father, husband, or elite propertied male) to signify the 
complex inter-relatedness of various forms of oppression 
(like classism, sexism, racism, etc). These various forms 
ofdomination do not stand alone. Rather, they reinforce 
one another into a domination system. 2 

In recent years, anarcho-primitivism has gained traction 
as an anarchist critique of civilization as a whole. This 
move is important because, I believe, oppression and 
domination goes much deeper than a critique of the State 
or of corporations or of any powerful elite. Rather, it goes 
deeper into the fabric of our social structures. 
Primitivism, perhaps, attempts to name this more fully 
than any other "school" (for lack of a better word) of 
though. However, while I believe there is much to learn 
from anarcho-primitivist critiques, I don't think anarcho- 
primitivists have been careful enough in addressing the 
way in which particular dominations intersect to create 
systemic oppression today. 

I have found it helpful to focus my critique on the 
"empire" as a manifestation of inter-related oppressions. 
Empire is, in our context, that social reality (or unreality, 



2 For more on this, see Elisabeth Schiissler Fiorenza's The 
Power of the Word: Scripture and the Rhetoric of Empire. 



17 



depending upon how you look at it) that globally reaches 
out to manage all of creation (including humanity) into a 
system of exploitation wherein only the elite ultimately 
benefit. It is the bringing of death to the whole of life. 
Anarchists are rarely simply against the State— they have 
(or should) become namers of all forms of oppression, 
seeking to understand the way oppressions reinforce each 
other in enslaving creation and seeing, in contrast, a way 
of liberation and life for all of creation. 

Anarchism is, as a defined idea, a new concept. This 
complicates any effort to delve too deeply into the past in 
order to name any group or movement as "anarchist." 
However, as anthropologist David Graeber writes: 

The nineteenth-century "founding figures" 
(Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Proudhon) did not 
think of themselves as having invented 
anything particularly new. The basic 
principles of anarchism— self-organization, 
voluntary association, mutual aid— referred to 
forms of human behavior they assumed to 
have been around about as long as humanity. 
The same goes for the rejection of the State 
and of all forms of structural violence, 
inequality, or domination... even the 
assumption that all these forms are somehow 
related and reinforce each other. None of it 
was presented as some startling new doctrine. 
And in fact it was not: one can find records of 
people making similar arguments throughout 
history, despite the fact there is every reason 
to believe that in most times and places, such 
opinions were the ones least likely to be 
written down. We are talking less about a 
body of theory, then, than about an attitude, 
or perhaps one might even say a faith: the 



18 



rejection of certain types of social relations, 
the confidence that certain others would be 
much better ones on which to build a livable 
society, the belief that such a society could 
actually exist. 3 

Graeber rightly focuses on an anarchist attitude rather 
than an anarchist body of theory. Perhaps it would be 
more helpful to explore "the anarchic impulse" rather 
than to articulate an "ism" called "anarchism." Naming 
the "anarchic impulse" allows one to recognize a familiar 
posture without anachronistically co-opting past 
movements (too much). Anarchism tends to be praxis- 
oriented, rather than theoretically-oriented. Graeber 
suggests that we understand Marxism as a system of 
thought while anarchism is most at home in on-the- 
ground practices. At its best, anarchism isn't theoretical, 
with all its abstract-thought-ducks lined up in a row, but 
rather an evolving endeavor where thought flows out of 
experiment and practice. In other words, anarchism is 
perhaps best understood in terms of postures and 
practices, not as a body of theory. 

It would make sense, then, that those who follow Jesus 
Christ (who presumably want to embody the way of love), 
would feel drawn to a set of practices and theories that 
seek to remove oppressive social relations and, instead, 
seek a new way of relating. 



Defining "Christianity" 

Christianity is even harder to define. It has more 
adherents, a longer history, and thousands of self-defined 
sects. Christianity has never been monolithic. Orthodoxy 



3 David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology 
(Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004) pp. 3-4 



19 



has been an attempt at "defining the center"-which, 
whether you agree with the creeds or not— is a power 
move. So while there are some that would privilege their 
tradition as the definitive expression of Christianity, I am 
going to resist privileging any particular tradition or set of 
orthodox principles. Rather, any group that claims Jesus 
Christ as its primary inspiration, will be, for the purposes 
of this book, considered "Christian." 

So, while Christianity is usually broken up into three parts 
by dictionaries (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), such 
divisions only work on paper. Some groups, like the 
Anabaptists or Quakers, often don't think of themselves 
as Protestant at all. Some groups are labelled as cults (like 
the Mormons). Some groups claim to transcend such 
categorization (like evangelicals). Some assume they 
stand apart from denominational traditions (non- 
denominational churches). Pentecostalism may have 
roots in Protestantism, but is so unique and ubiquitous 
that it needs to be understood in its own terms. Of course, 
every single one of the groups I've mentioned has its own 
sub-groups. 

And of course, there's always someone who simply says "I 
don't believe in labels-I'm just a Christian"-which is 
essentially a nifty cop-out. An even bigger cop-out comes 
from those who were spiritually and socially formed in a 
Christian church and still hold some of those values or 
beliefs, yet suggest that they don't call themselves 
"Christian" at all. All of this is to say that the social 
construct of "Christianity" is an unmitigated mess. I will 
say this, however: any time a group or tradition within 
Christianity expresses the anarchist impulse, they also 
stress the importance of ethics in Christian identity. 



20 



Further Reading 



Dave Andrews, Christi-Anarchy : Discovering a Radical 
Spirituality of Compassion, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and 
Stock Publishers, 2012. 

David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, 
Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004. 

Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of 
Anarchism, Oakland: PM Press, 2010. 



21 



Anarchic Impulses in Christian History 



Christian history has a number of examples that 
demonstrate an anarchic impulse and their common 
features are revealing. For most of these groups, anarchic 
tendencies were intertwined with spiritual and theological 
convictions. Their spirituality and politics were 
integrated. There is something deeply lacking when we 
imagine a Christian anarchism that simply "slaps 
together" one's Christianity and one's anarchism. It is not 
only possible, but (I believe) necessary to have an 
anarchism that flows out of one's spirituality (or, perhaps, 
vice versa). 

So, what are some expressions of Christianity that 
authentically express the anarchic impulse? I'll briefly 
examine some of those groups who demonstrate self- 
organization, voluntary association, mutual aid, and anti- 
authoritarianism. 

A Brief Survey of Anarchic Christian History 1 

It is perhaps worth noting the difference between being 
anarchist towards government (but not the church e.g. the 
early Catholic Worker) and being anarchist internally (but 
not so much towards government e.g. Quakers). And 

l A number of friends protested the following survey. 
Orthodox friends, Lutheran friends, and Catholic friends all 
balked at the exclusion of their traditions from this chapter. 
While I acknowledge that it is possible to be an anarchist 
and meaningfully participate in any tradition, this isn't to 
say that the anarchist impulse naturally flows from those 
traditions. 



22 



there are some groups that approach something like 
anarchism both internally and externally (like the 
Beguines). Despite the diversity of perspectives offered, I 
believe the following groups each reveal something of the 
anarchist impulse in their own way. I have no doubt more 
could be added; perhaps it will inspire you in your own 
quest to find anarchist threads in the fabric of Christian 
history. 

The Early Church, some argue, was anarchistic. This is, 
of course, a bold claim. Everyone claims that the heart of 
their version of Christianity is expressed by the early 
church. Nevertheless, some of the early Christian 
communities seem to have practiced certain features of 
anarchism. 

For example, the Jerusalem group, as described in Acts, 
shared their money and labor equally and fairly among 
members. There are also indications of consensus 
decision making (Acts 15). Within Pauline Christianity, we 
see glimpses of mutual submission rather than hierarchy 
(Ephesians 5), a charismatic understanding of authority 
and power wherein spiritual authority isn't located within 
any one person but, instead, any person could manifest 
the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14), an d a fundamental 
egalitarianism (Galatians 3 and Colossians 3). 

Some, such as Ammon Hennacy, have claimed that a 
"shift" away from Jesus' practices and teachings of 
nonviolence, simple living, and freedom occurred in the 
theology of Paul of Tarsus. Hennacy (and others) suggest 
that Christians should look at returning to pre-"Pauline 
Christianity". However, if we focus on writings clearly 
belonging to Paul while grappling with the complexity of 
his context and rhetoric, we can see within the Pauline 
epistles something like anarchism. 



23 



Others point further down the road to the evolving 
relationship with the State (leading to what many call the 
"Constantinian Shift"). It is clear that in its earliest 
centuries, the Church rejected the religion, economics, 
and violence of empire. Often, Christians saw themselves 
as a distinct socio-political reality which, while not 
necessarily anarchistic, certainly had many similar 
components. This socio-political distinction eroded as 
Christianity gained favor in the Roman Empire. 

The Bogomils were a 10 th Century sect with Gnostic 
tendencies. They called for a return to early Christianity 
and, as a result, rejected church authority. They also 
resisted state authority. They didn't build church 
buildings, preferring to worship outdoors. They were 
dualists who saw corporeal life as a creation of the Devil. 
Nevertheless, their anti-materialism led them to refuse to 
pay taxes, to work as serfs, or to fight in wars. It is 
possible that the Bogomils reflected the sentiments of 
earlier gnostic groups whose socio-political views have 
been obscured. 

Beguines and the Beghards were lay orders of women 
and men in the 12 th to 14 th centuries. They often lived a 
monastic lifestyle together without formally taking vows. 
Communities were autonomous, largely egalitarian, and 
often challenged class distinctions. They found 
themselves in trouble with both the Church and the State, 
since the Beguines and Beghards often did things 
according to their own communal discernment. Many 
influential Beguines believed in an unmediated mystical 
connection with God, thus rendering the structures of the 
Church (and therefore the State) largely inconsequential. 

The Lollards— followers of John Wycliffe who were 
deemed heretics and extremists— had anti-authoritarian 
tendencies that flowed from their understanding of the 
Gospel. Their movement began in the mid 14 th century 



24 



and continued into the Reformation. In their document 
the Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards (penned in 1396- 
!397)> they rejected papal authority, challenged the 
political collusion of State and Church, and undermined 
the legitimacy of war. 

The Anabaptists (the radical reformers of the 16 th 
Century) initially lived autonomously with indifference to 
secular government. And, while largely patriarchal, such 
groups practiced a sort of egalitarianism that didn't invest 
authority into any one individual. Through the ages some 
of this indifference has eroded (though, thankfully, so has 
much of its patriarchalism). In his essay on anarchism for 
the Encyclopedia Britannica, Peter Kropotkin traces the 
birth of anarchist thought in Europe to early Anabaptist 
communities. This makes sense, since traditional 
Anabaptists separated themselves from the functions and 
practices of the State. In addition, Anabaptists past and 
present have generally embraced pacifism and some 
groups have held property in common. 

The Quakers (Society of Friends) formed in the 17 th 
century. The Quakers are internally organized along 
anarchist lines. All decisions are made locally and by 
consensus (which has had a tremendous influence on 
modern anarchist decision making) and are largely 
egalitarian. While Quakers don't usually bring this 
approach into an anarchist political theory, Quaker 
approaches to power and violence has led to significant 
cross-pollination between Christian anarchists and 
Quakers. 

The Diggers were a 17 th century group of agrarian 
communists in England. They believed in holding land in 
common in small egalitarian rural communities. Founder 
of the movement, Gerrard Winstanley argued in his 1649 
pamphlet Truth Lifting up its Head above Scandals that 
power corrupts, that property enslaves, and that freedom 



25 



is only possible in a society without rulers. They were 
deeply influenced by the example given in the early 
chapters of Acts. The Diggers are a fascinating example of 
how the communist impulses of the early church inspired 
a communist agrarianism that, in turn, nurtured 
anarchistic understandings of authority. With the 
Diggers, spirituality shaped economics, which in turn, 
shaped political understandings. 

The Dukhobors are a Russian group of unknown 
origins (though they probably emerged in the 17 th 
Century). They continue to exist primarily in Canada. The 
Dukhobors reject secular government, Russian 
Orthodoxy, the supreme authority of Scripture, and the 
divinity of Jesus. Their spirituality is, like many Quakers, 
based upon the assumption that true spirituality is 
unmediated, thus rendering any mediative structures 
unnecessary. 

The Tolstoyans are followers of the philosophical and 
religious views of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828- 
1910). They put particular emphasis on the Sermon on the 
Mount and other teachings of Jesus as a guide for life. 
Many self-identify as Christians, though in a departure 
from some other forms of Christianity, they tend to focus 
more on the teachings of Jesus as a divinely-guided 
human rather than the Son of God. They do not 
participate in, or concern themselves with, governmental 
and worldly affairs, which they consider immoral and 
corrupt. Thus, they may be described as anarchists, 
though not all of them claim that title. They embrace a 
deep pacifism-often refusing to defend themselves. Many 
are vegetarian or vegan. Tolstoy influenced Gandhi (and 
his his understanding of nonviolence) and European 
anarchism. It is important to note that Kropotkin 
recognized Christian anarchism (as developed by Tolstoy) 
as one of four strands of anarchism in his day (early 



26 



1900s). The other strands are anarcho-communism, 
Proudhonism, and literary-anarchism. 

The Catholic Workers (particularly its founders) have 
found common ground between a relatively 
"conservative" reading of Scripture and political 
anarchism. Begining in the early to mid 20 th century, the 
workers center around the practice of the works of mercy, 
a belief in personalism, and living communally in either 
houses of hospitality or farming communes. The workers 
are involved in anti-war and anti-nuclear resistance and, 
in recent years, have become increasingly active in anti- 
globalization work. 

Liberation Theology in general, and the Ecclesial Base 
Communities in particular, are not anarchist per se, but 
within this movement, there has been a huge re- 
imagining of the authority of Church and of the State. 
Most liberationists seem to have a clear socialist bent, but 
there are anarchist sparks here and there. Some early 
liberationists drew inspiration from folks like Dorothy 
Day (co-founder of the Catholic Worker) and Tolstoy. 
While the influence of Marxist thought has been well 
researched, little attention has been given to the anarchist 
influences within Liberation Theology. 2 Nevertheless, for 
many Christian anarchists, liberation theology has 
provided the most fertile intellectual soil for growing a 
faith that integrates spirituality and political thought. 

There are, of course, other groups worth mentioning. 
Many have been influenced by those movements that 
touch on an aspect of anarchist thought-like Francis' 
approach to wealth, Wesley's way of organizing small 
groups of faith and practice, the monastic approach to 



2 For an example of a work that does examine this 
relationship, see Linda H. Damico's The Anarchist 
Dimension of Liberation Theology. 



27 



common life and mutuality, etc. 



Christian Anarchist Expressions Today 

While many Christian anarchists I've met have been 
conversant with the movements listed, few have emerged 
from these groups. I've met Christian anarchists who join 
the Catholic Worker, become Mennonite (like myself), or 
participate in a Quaker meeting. But, for the most part, 
contemporary Christian anarchists emerge out of 
decidedly mainstream Christian circles and become 
radicalized towards anarchism. 

Many Christian anarchists were first introduced to 
anarchistic ideas through engagement with a Catholic 
Worker community or Christian intentional community. 
Others found their way to Christian anarchism through 
books which either articulate a Christian Anarchist 
perspective (or come close). Writers such as Dorothy Day, 
Jacques Ellul, John Howard Yoder, Greg Boyd, or Shane 
Claiborne have wooed many into an anarchist perspective. 
In my own context (North America), the strongest 
network for Christian anarchism remains the Catholic 
Worker movement. In addition to the Catholic Worker 
movement, Jesus Radicals has played a role in networking 
and gathering Christian anarchists (primarily in the 
United States). Other notable networks or gatherings that 
have been somewhat friendly to North American 
Christian anarchism have been Papa Fest and the 



Any groups demonstrating a tendency towards anti- 
authoritarians were likely to be suppressed, making ancient 
and early medieval sources particularly difficult to find. 
Earlier reviewers advocated for the inclusion of the Celtic 
Christians, Donatists, and more. Early "heretical" groups 
were cast off for more than theological reasons; the 
particularities of their dissent have often been obscured by 
suppression. 



28 



communities associated with the New Monasticism. By all 
accounts, Christian anarchism is on the rise. However, it 
isn't gathering around a popular figure, organization, or 
movement. That is, in many ways, how it should be 
(though more organizing certainly needs to be done). 



Lessons Learned 

So, what can we learn from this stroll through history? 
How does it inform our own lives in this season? I confess 
that I bring my own agenda to this history lesson. No 
doubt you can draw out some lessons of your own. 
Nevertheless, here are are seven issues I'd like to raise 
from this brief history lesson: 

1) Every single one of the groups listed has been 
considered heretical, in some way, by the dominant 
religious groups of their time. This may seem obvious, but 
if a religious group is dominant, they won't like anti- 
authoritarian tendencies among its religious adherents. 
Given this history, we shouldn't expect mainstream 
Christianity to naturally shift towards anarchism. 

2) Many of these groups are "heretical" (or at least flirted 
with "heresy") in more than one area. If we are 
intellectually honest, our anarchist impulses will affect 
more than simply our view of the government. The 
anarchist impulse causes us to rethink every relationship, 
including our relationships with spiritual authority (which 
may also include the Bible, Jesus, and God). That doesn't 
mean we have to open up the doors of every classical 
"heresy". It does, however, suggest that the anarchic 
impulse doesn't play safely with every expression of 
mainstream Christianity. When a belief is deemed a 
"heresy" it often accompanies the marginalizing of a 
group of people who have gathered around that belief. It 
is difficult to discern whether the group is ostracized 



29 



because it is heretical, or deemed heretical because it is a 
beneficial tactic of the dominant group to eliminate a 
threat. 

3) Most radical Christian groups either die out or go 
mainstream. We should try to learn from those groups 
that still exist but haven't mainstreamed. They may hold 
keys to sustainable nonconformity. 

4) You'll notice a large gap from the early church to the 
Bogomils. This doesn't mean that there were no 
Christians with anarchist impulses between the 4 th and 
10 th centuries. It is likely that many "heretical" groups 
(Novations, Donatists, Pelagians, etc.) or early monastic 
expressions could have made the list. However, there isn't 
as much information about fringe groups during those 
centuries. What we do know about these groups is largely 
offered by their religious/political enemies. This isn't to 
say that all such groups were nifty and worthy of 
emulation. However, we simply do not know how much 
such groups could inspire us in our own messy efforts to 
live faithfully in the midst of civilization. 

5) While some groups influenced later groups, there isn't 
a successive chain of radical Christianity. The anarchic 
impulse isn't passed down through the ages like a baton. 
Rather, it emerges and re-emerges. I believe that the 
Spirit of God creates anarchy. We should, perhaps, be 
open to new expressions of the anarchic impulse 
emerging from unexpected places. This should be cause 
for hope: even in the most unlikely of places, life breaks 
out like a weed sprouting through a crack in a sidewalk. 

6) Most movements mentioned above had early founders 
and influencers who were mystics. In her work The Silent 
Cry, Dorothee Soelle points to the mystical nature of 
liberation. We would be wise to ground our anarchism in 
a real mysticism-one that embraces a sort of divine 



30 



wildness that can empower us to love in an unloving 
world. One that gives us a glimpse of a reality that we 
can't yet see. That mysticism can be linked to anarchism 
makes sense: mystics often reject the notion that access to 
God is mediated. 

7) While it may seem unnecessary in our media age, it is 
important that we pass along our wisdom to the next 
generations. Even in my lifetime I've seen a 
communication gap between older radicals and folks in 
my generation (or younger). We need to learn how to 
share our best insights. We need to become evangelists in 
ways that subvert efforts at suppression. 



31 



Further Reading 



Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland, Radical 
Christian Writings: A Reader, Oxford: Blackwell 
Publishers, 2001. 

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Christian Anarchism: A 
Political Commentary on the Gospel, Exeter: Imprint 
Academic, 2011. 

Linda H. Damico, The Anarchist Dimension of Liberation 
Theology, New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1987. 

Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes, Maryknoll, New York: 
Orbis Books, 1963. 

Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, Eugene, Oregon: 
Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011. 

Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Maryknoll, 
New York: Orbis Books, 2006. 

Tripp York, Living on Hope While Living in Babylon: The 
Christian Anarchists of the Twentieth Century, Eugene, 
Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2009. 



32 



Anarchic Impulses in Scripture 



For most Christians, there is one big reason for rejecting 
anarchism: it isn't biblical. Or is it? A superficial reading 
of the Bible reveals a God who thinks of himself as a sort 
of Warrior King, who sanctions state-enacted genocide, 
and who promotes a string of saintly kings, like King 
David. When Jesus arrives, it is to start a Kingdom of God 
that, apparently, seems content to co-exist with earthly 
rulership. In fact, Jesus himself says to "render to Caesar 
what is Caesar's" and Paul advocates being good subjects 
to the governing authorities. Therefore, Christian 
anarchism is a contradiction in terms, right? 

Furthermore, the sorts of ideas many Christian anarchists 
hold are also glaringly unbiblical. Like nonviolence (many 
biblical heroes were prolific smiters). Like communism 
(certain patriarchs were "blessed" with vast property- 
which they didn't share equally with all). Like 
egalitarianism (Paul tends to affirm male leadership, 
Jesus praises a Centurion who holds a position of 
authority, etc.). The Bible is the enemy of anarchism. 
Right? 

I don't think so. While it is outside the scope of a single 
chapter (or book) to tackle every challenge that 
traditional readers of Scripture advance against 
anarchism, I can offer a short overview to serve as a 
simple lens for seeing Scripture differently. I'll try to note 
other resources for those of you who'd like to dig deeper. 
To really address the myriad of issues that emerge from 
an anarchic reading of Scripture, one would be better 
served by a commentary series. What I'm offering here is 



33 



a super simple overview, not a complete survey. If any 
Bible scholars out there want to publish an Anarchist 
Bible Commentary, I would not only be happy to buy a 
set, but also would have great ideas for who should 
contribute. 



The Hebrew Scriptures 

Let's start at the beginning. Many read Genesis as an anti- 
civilizational text. It begins with the story of humans 
living in harmony with nature and upholds that as a 
pristine ideal. 

As Ched Myers suggests, 

...in the "primeval history" of Gen 1-11 Israel's 
sages— redacting older sources and probably 
writing in the aftermath of the failed 
monarchy— also attempt to explain [the 
rupture from primal life]. Eden can be 
interpreted as a mythic memory of the old 
symbiotic lifeways: humans, creatures and 
God dwell intimately and richly together (Gen 

2). 1 

When paradise is lost, humans are relegated to hard 
agricultural toil. 

The first act of violence is committed by the agriculturalist 
(Cain) rather than the nomadic herdsman (Abel). As we 
know, agriculture emerges with the advent of civilization. 
It is this murderer who establishes the first city. Later, as 
humanity "progresses" all sorts of crazy things happen, 



l read more of Ched's thoughts on the "Fall" here: 
http://www.chedmyers.org/system/files/The%20Fall%20- 
%2oAnarcho%2oPrimitivism%20%2526%20the 
%20Bible.pdf 



34 



like when human population spikes, the "sons of elohim" 
have sex with women, people become increasingly wicked, 
and God sends a flood to reboot creation. Later, when 
folks gather to build a huge tower that reaches to the 
heavens, God scatters the people. For the most part, 
Genesis is remarkably negative about the civilizational 
project and its subsequent imperializing tendencies. God 
even has to drown the earth to knock back the evils of 
civilization. 

Again, Myers writes: 

The "Fall" in Gen 1-11, then, is not so much a 
cosmic moment of moral failure as it is a 
progressive 'history' of decline into civilization 
—exactly contrary to the Myth of Progress. 
The biblical primeval history thus should be 
considered not only as "mythic memory," but 
also as perhaps the first literature of 
resistance to the grand project of civilization— 
rightly warning against its social pathologies 
and ecocidal consequences. 2 

The rest of Genesis follows the story of the first 
patriarchs, who YHWH has called out to become a people 
who will follow YHWH into a promised land. Throughout 
Genesis, trouble happens when the Jews favorably 
interact with imperial powers or try to settle too soon. 
While it is true that the patriarchs had many possessions, 
it is a stretch to infer from their wealth modern notions of 
property rights. Pre-agricultural nomadic peoples were 
tribal. While the patriarchs were hardly egalitarian, their 
understanding of ownership was much more communal 
than modern Western notions. The wealth of the tribe or 
clan or family was for the benefit of all. And, it would 



2 From Ched Myers article "the Fall" in The Encyclopdia of 
Religion and Nature 



35 



seem, that God's vision for Jubilee 3 would push the 
communality of goods and lands even further. 

Exodus tells the story of a people enslaved by the 
Egyptian empire and how YHWH delivers them. You 
know the story: YHWH calls Moses (in the burning bush 
theophany) to lead the Israelites out of slavery into a 
Promised Land. Of course, once they are liberated, the 
people grumble and complain-desiring a return to Egypt 
instead of the long journey in the wilderness. In Exodus, we 
see a "story of Israel's communal bonding around the mountain 
at which they encounter YHWH, with no need for 'sacrifice' of 
animals or enemies." 4 As a result of their grumbling, YHWH 
keeps them in the wilderness for forty years. 

Then, apparently, Moses passes the mantle of leadership to 
Joshua— a sort of military hero who engages in war against the 
indigenous peoples of Canaan. 5 The people successfully settle 
and are attacked by their neighbors, leading YHWH to raise up 
"judges" to lead the people in combat against the enemies of 
Israel. 



Every seventh year was a Sabbatical Year, during which the 
land is to lie fallow and agricultural activity is to cease. At 
the end of the year, all debts are to be forgiven. The year at 
the end of seven Sabbatical cycles is the year of Jubilee. At 
that time all land was to be redistributed back to its original 
owner. If these practices were kept (along with the 
additional stipulations to provide for aliens, widows, and 
others), there would be little room for economic injustice. 
Wes Howard-Brook, Come Out My People (Maryknoll: NY: 
Orbis Books, 2012) p. 196 

This part of Israel's history is particularly troubling. Wes 
Howard-Brook (and others) suggest that there are two 
competing irreconcilable theologies in the Hebrew 
Scriptures— an imperial "Zion theology" and a creation- 
affirming "Sinai Theology." Such scholars argue that the 
conquest of Canaan represents Zion theology used to 
legitimize the monarchy. 



36 



YHWH sets up a brilliant economic and political reality, 
which will follow Jubilee economic practices and, instead 
of having a centralized government, will employ 
temporary leadership as need arises. Instead of a king, 
God dwells among them to rule directly rather than ruling 
through kings or priests. For example, one of the leaders 
who emerges, Gideon, tells the people "I will not rule over 
you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule 
over you." 6 Unfortunately, Gideon's offspring attempt to 
set up a dynasty. 

The people keep complaining for a king, and eventually 
YHWH relents. Saul-who fits the people's idea of a king- 
sucks. He dies in battle and David (after some oft-told 
bible stories transpire), becomes king. The kingdom splits 
during the time of David's grandson. Conflicts between 
the prophets and the kings become common place as 
Israel becomes increasingly like its neighbors, leading to 
the eventual demise and captivity of both the northern 
and southern kingdoms. 

This story-from Exodus to the monarchy-is one of 
centralization and waywardness. As Wes Howard-Brook 
writes, 

As it stands in its canonical order, the story 
conveys a relatively (and deceivingly) simple 
message: the shift from a twelve tribe 
confederacy under YHWH's rule to a human 
monarchy "like the nations" (l Sam. 8:5) was a 
disastrous betrayal of the unique status of 
Israel as YHWH's "chosen people". ..Israel 
"converted" from the religion of creation to 
the religion of empire, with predictable 
results. 7 



6 Judges 8:23 

7 Howard-Brook, p. 95 



37 



It is important to highlight some of what makes this a 
"deceivingly" simple message. It is simplistic and foolish 
to assume that the days of David and Solomon, with a 
monarchy centralized in Jerusalem and worship 
centralized in a Temple in Zion, should be considered a 
golden age. There is, according to Howard-Brook, a 
tension (or out-right contradiction) between the pro- 
monarchic "'Zion theology' that placed YHWH in the 
Jerusalem temple" where Solomon "could be understood 
as truly empowered by YHWH with 'wisdom'" and the 
prophetic "Sinai theology" where "Solomon's 'experience' 
can be written off as either wishful thinking or simply as 
propaganda." 8 In other words, the Hebrew Scriptures 
present a sort of argument between the religion of Empire 
(where a faithful, powerful, secure, wealthy and vast 
nation is centralized in Jerusalem, where YHWH and king 
dwell) and the religion of Creation (where a faithful 
people live in Jubilee, encounter YHWH in creation and 
amidst people, and live as kin without an earthly ruler). 

As we read through the prophets, when God speaks, it is 
usually through a prophet who challenges the king's 
power and who stands outside of the machines of the 
monarchy. So much could be said here. The emphases of 
the kings are very different than those of the prophets. It 
is astonishing how much the prophets link idolatry and 
exploitation of the poor. The kings often centralize wealth 
and power. The prophets challenge that trend. The 
prophets, it would seem, still hold God's Jubilee vision in 
their imaginations. 

One of my favorite proto-anarchist sections from the 
Hebrew Scriptures is Ezekiel 34. God judges the 
"shepherds" or rulers of Israel, essentially striking them 
down to become the people's sole Shepherd. Incidentally, 
this may be the passage that Jesus had in mind in his 



8 Ibid., p. 132 

38 



"sheep and goats" story in Matthew 25. Here's a choice 
quote: 

I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will 
make them lie down, declares the sovereign 
Lord. I will seek the lost and bring back the 
strays; I will bandage the injured and 
strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong 
I will destroy. I will feed them-with 
judgment! 9 



The New Testament 

Let's jump right into the origin story. Luke tells the story 
of Jesus birth. Jesus' mother, while Jesus was still in the 
womb, said the following words while filled with the 
Spirit: 

[God] has demonstrated power with [God's] 
arm; [God] has scattered those whose pride 
wells up from the sheer arrogance of their 
hearts. [God] has brought down the mighty 
from their thrones, and has lifted up those of 
lowly position; [God] has filled the hungry 
with good things, and has sent the rich away 
empty. 10 

Jesus grows up. He starts his ministry and is tempted by the 
devil in the wilderness." The temptation of Jesus by the devil 
reveals the manner in which Jesus understands his authority. 
Jesus' sense of authority bears little to no similarity to kingly 
authority. In the wilderness, he is tempted politically, 
economically, and religiously to assert his messiah-ship. But he 
refuses. The diabolical nature of his temptation isn't due to the 



9 Ezekiel 34:15-16 

10 Luke i:5i-53 

11 Luke 4 



39 



source of the temptation— that the offer of political, economic, 
and religious power comes from the devil instead of God. 
Rather, the temptation concerns the sort of reign Jesus should 
pursue. 12 Jesus is the unking. 

Later in Luke 4, right after his trial and baptism, Jesus goes to 
his home town (Nazareth) and gives a political manifesto of 
liberation for the poor and oppressed, essentially announcing 
his messiah-ship and the coming of Jubilee (the "year of the 
Lord's favor"). Provocatively, Jesus seems willing to include 
oppressors in the kingdom. 13 Which is why his hometown folks 
—who most likely knew him well— try to kill him. 

Just to jump ahead a bit, in Luke 17:21 Jesus says (in 
words that would later inspire the development of Leo 
Tolstoy's anarchism) : "The kingdom of God is within you" 
(or among you). In the context, it seems to be a way of 
suggesting that the kingdom of God isn't a place, a 
demonstrative regime change, or a clear event. Rather it is 
here. Now. 

Later, when Jesus heard his friends arguing amongst 
themselves the pecking-order in this kingdom, 14 he tells 
them: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and 
those who exercise authority over them call themselves 
Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the 
greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the 
one who rules like the one who serves." Jesus is asking his 
friends to rethink everything they know about socio- 
political realities. 



12 John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus does an excellent 
job developing this argument. 

13 The context makes this clear. The miracles Jesus references 
in his sermon involve the healing of Gentiles. Furthermore, 
when quoting Isaiah 61, he omits the portion that speaks of 
"the year of the Lord's vengeance" which was understood to 
refer to vengeance against the Gentile oppressors of Israel. 

14 Luke 22:25-26 



40 



The next time you read the Gospel of Luke, try to read it 
through the lens of Jubilee— where the ones who have 
accumulated have to give up and the ones who have lost 
receive. Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell everything 
and give it to the poor. 15 He says the same thing to his 
disciples, by the way. 16 

In case you think only Luke is quotable for anarchists, the 
Gospel of John is also pretty juicy. For example, Jesus 
calls Satan the "prince of the world" which is likely a way 
of referring to the Roman Empire. 17 

In John 18:36, in a conversation with Pilate, we learn that 
Jesus' kingdom is not of this world. Actually, it is perhaps 
better translated as "not from this world." Usually, this is 
interpreted as saying that Jesus' kingdom is spiritual or 
heavenly. However, the way such dualistic language 
worked in that time makes such a meaning unlikely. 
Rather, Jesus is saying his kingdom is different. It is 
something entirely new. It is a gift from God-it comes 
from God. 

After the resurrection, we read of an account of civil 
disobedience in Acts 5. When the disciples were ordered 
by authorities to stop their teaching, they answer: "We 
must obey God rather than any human authority." Here's 
what most people hear when they read that: "We must 
obey God rather than any human authority in those rare 
circumstances where there is a clear and obvious 
contradiction between what the law says and God says, 
since God's laws trump human laws." I'm not so sure. If 



15 Luke 18:18-30 

16 Luke 12:13-34 is one of the most compelling economic 
passages in the entire Bible. I reference it here because many 
people assume that the call to redistribute wealth to the poor 
is only made to the rich young ruler in Luke 18. It is a more 
common theme than that, particularly in Luke's gospel. 

17 see John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11 



41 



you believed that your messiah was a socio- 
political/religious unking who died and then rose from 
the dead (and then mystically poured his Spirit out upon 
you), then you might simply mean "we must obey God, 
not any human authority." 

This helps us understand the way in which the early 
church practiced community. They were encouraged, 
among other things, to work out their issues internally 
rather than appealing to the courts. 18 In Romans 12, Paul 
argues that his friends in Rome should "not be conformed 
to this present world [read: empire], but be transformed 
by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and 
approve what is the will of God." This is, again, often read 
as a call to be spiritual or heavenly minded. But, given the 
larger context, it is perhaps better to see it as a challenge 
to stop being so Roman-ish and, instead, pursue the way 
of love. 

I am often asked to justify my anti-imperial reading of the 
New Testament. After all, the word "empire" doesn't 
appear in the New Testament. Well. Here's the thing. The 
early church was sneaky. They didn't want to sound 
overtly treasonous. So usually we have to try to inhabit 
their context with our imaginations to see Rome closer to 
they way they saw it. And no writing is as anti-imperial as, 
perhaps, John's Revelation. Read Revelation 13, 14, and 
17 for a not-so subtle picture of oppressive Rome. 



But What About...? 

Yeah. I know. There are still a lot of open questions. My point 
here isn't so much to defend an anarchic read of Scripture as 
much as it is to give a sketch of the possibilities. We read 
Scripture in ways that support authoritarianism because we 



18 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 

42 



learned how to read Scripture in authoritarian contexts. Once 
you start pulling the loose threads, you begin to find the whole 
authoritarian fabric unravelling. For sake of brevity, I'll address 
the two most commonly raised passages against Christian 
anarchism. 

The first is Romans 13, where Paul tells his readers to 
"submit to the governing authorities": 

Let every person be subject to the governing 
authorities. For there is no authority except by 
God's appointment, and the authorities that 
exist have been instituted by God. So the 
person who resists such authority resists the 
ordinance of God, and those who resist will 
incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for 
good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not 
to fear authority? Do good and you will receive 
its commendation, for it is God's servant for 
your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for 
it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God's 
servant to administer retribution on the 
wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in 
subjection, not only because of the wrath of 
the authorities but also because of your 
conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, 
for the authorities are God's servants devoted 
to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: 
taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to 
whom revenue is due, respect to whom 
respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. 19 

When interpretting this passage, there are several things 
that one must keep in mind: 

1) This passage occurs immediately after Romans 12, 
where Paul challenges his readers to bless persecutors, 



19 Romans 13:1-7 

43 



live peaceably, never avenge, feed enemies, and overcome 
evil with good. By clear implication, the "governing 
authorities" are persecuting enemies whose evil needs to 
be overcome with good. Given that Paul is likely drawing 
directly from Jesus' teachings, it may be best to interpret 
the call to "be subject" as an application of the call to 
"turn the other cheek." It is not a call to mere obedience 
or happy citizenship. 

2) Jacques Ellul suggests "the passage thus counsels 
nonrevolution, but in so doing, by that very fact, it also 
teaches the intrinsic nonlegitimacy of institutions." 20 In 
other words, the very fact that Paul has to argue, in light 
of enemy-love, that the people should forsake (violent) 
resistance reveals that the "governing authorities" are, in 
some sense, worthy of revolt. Just like Jesus' call to turn 
the other cheek recognizes that, under normal 
circumstances, one would hit back. To refrain from 
violence is a testimony to the the Roman Christian's 
goodness, not the goodness of Rome. 

3) John Howard Yoder (and others) have (rightly) 
challenged translating the Greek word tasso as 
"instituted." Rather, Yoder argues that a better translation 
would be that the authorities are "restrained" by God. 
Therefore, Paul could be advising his readers against 
revolt since God is already restraining the rulers. 21 

4) Due to the nature of translation and the dualism in our 
modern imaginations (separating spiritual from political 
realms), we don't often recognize that Paul's language 
around the "powers" blurs the distinction between 
political and spiritual realities. When we read words like 
"authorities" or "rulers" or "powers," Paul may be talking 



20 Jacques Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity (Grand Rapids: 
Eerdmans, 1988), p. 88 

21 See chapter ten of John Howard Yoder's The Politics of 
Jesus 



44 



primarily about spiritual realities, political realities, or 
(most likely) both at the same time. This adds complexity 
to what would otherwise seem like a straight-forward 
challenge to be "subject" to the "authorities" because, 
elsewhere, such "authorities" are seen as enemies to 
Christ. 

5) It is a mistake to take Romans 13 as a universal 
message of how Christians everywhere ought to relate to 
government. Wes Howard-Brook states: 

We can say, though, that whatever Paul meant 
to convey to the Christians at Rome in the 50s, 
it was not a general principle of subservience 
to imperial authority... we've seen how Paul's 
letters regularly insist on attributing to Jesus 
titles and authority that his audience would 
certainly have heard as "plagiarized" from 
Roman sources... The most likely explanation 
of Romans 13 is that it was a message 
addressed to specific concerns of Roman 
Christians under Nero. 22 

And so, from Paul's perspective, the Christians in Rome in 
the 50s should not revolt. Rather, they should love their 
oppressors and leave wrath to God. This wasn't because 
the Roman government was good, but because followers 
of Jesus are called to the way of love. Furthermore, God 
has restrained the authorities and will judge them. 



Much more could be said about what such teachings could 
mean for us. At the very least, it encourages us to trust 
God and love our enemies. While Paul argues against 
violent resistance, his words leave room for nonviolent 
struggle. It would be foolish, I think, to extrapolate 



22 Howard-Brook, p. 464 

45 



universal principles of governmental engagement from 
this passage. Nevertheless, once we understand Paul's 
sentiments, we can better discern how to express the love 
of God in our own contexts. 

Tied for the most referenced anti-anarchy passage is Mark 
12:13-17: 

Then they sent some of the Pharisees and 
Herodians to trap him with his own words. 
When they came they said to him, "Teacher, 
we know that you are truthful and do not 
court anyone's favor, because you show no 
partiality but teach the way of God in 
accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay 
taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or 
shouldn't we?" But he saw through their 
hypocrisy and said to them, "Why are you 
testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me 
look at it." So they brought one, and he said to 
them, "Whose image is this, and whose 
inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." Then 
Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar the things 
that are Caesar's, and to God the things that 
are God's." And they were utterly amazed at 
him. 

Clearly they were trying to trick Jesus into publicly 
picking sides— either would be dangerous. If he sided with 
Rome, he'd lose the support of the people. If he 
denounced Rome, he'd be a marked man. The fact that 
Herodians and Pharisees are working together against 
Jesus is telling; Jesus is so offensive that enemies have 
put aside their differences to resist him. What is 
remarkable about this passage isn't so much that Jesus is 
clever. The implications of his statement are remarkable. 



46 



Are the implications that we should be Augustinian, 
creating a distinction between church and state? Or even 
separating them into two separate kingdoms with 
different claims as Luther or some Anabaptists have 
advocated? No. This is a very smart slap against Caesar 
without simply denouncing Caesar. By pointing to their 
coin (no good Jew should have a graven image like a coin 
in their pocket to begin with), Jesus is exposing idolatry 
and saying that such things belong to Caesar already, not 
God. If you've got any Caesar-stuff, it should be rendered 
accordingly. But what is God's belongs to God. Or, to 
quote Dorothy Day, "If we rendered unto God all the 
things that belong to God, there would be nothing left for 
Caesar." 

Lest you think that such approaches to scripture are a 
recent innovation, I direct you to Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a 
2nd Century bishop on the fringes of the Empire in 
Lugdunum, Gaul. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was 
a disciple of the Apostle John. In other words, he was 
removed from Jesus by two generations; he was a friend 
of a friend of Jesus: 

The Lord himself directed us to "render unto 
Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and to 
God the things which are God's," naming 
Caesar as Caesar, but confessing God as God. 
In like manner also, that which says, "You 
cannot serve two masters," he does himself 
interpret, saying "You cannot serve God and 
mammon," acknowledging God as God, but 
mentioning mammon, a thing also having an 
existence. He does not call mammon Lord 
when he says, "You cannot serve two masters," 
but he teaches his disciples who serve God, 



47 



not to be subject to mammon nor to be ruled 
by it... 23 

In other words, Irenaeus believed that the thing we 
should render Caesar is our renunciation. Caesar's 
lordship is comparable to that of mammon 24 . He is only 
your lord if you are his slave. 

23 Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.8.1 

24 Mammon is more than mere "money." It is likely that Jesus 
(and the early church) thought of Mammon as something 
demonic. "Mammon" not only signified money or wealth, 
but the entire economic system of exploitation. By the 
Middle Ages, many conceived of Mammon as the arch- 
demon of greed. 



48 



Further Reading 



Wes Howard-Brook, Come Out My People, Maryknoll, New 
York: Orbis Books, 2012. 

Norman Gottwald, Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the 
Religion of Liberated Israel, 1250-1050 BCE, Sheffield: 
Sheffield Academic Press, 1999. 

Ched Myers, Binding the Strongman, A Political Reading of 
Mark's Gospel, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988. 

John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, Grand Rapids: 
Eerdmans, 1994. 



49 



Tensions 



In writing this little book (where I've oh-so-briefly 
explored the complementarity of the way of Jesus and 
anarchism and the way the anarchic impulse has been 
expressed in Christian scriptures and history), I've 
realized a few things. Firstly, so much more work needs to 
be done. 

Secondly, no matter how sophisticated or compelling 
one's arguments, people have always (and will always) 
declare with certainty that anarchism and Christianity are 
fundamentally incompatible. Let me give a classic 
example. Someone reposted a digital version of chapter 
one on anarchistnews.org. Predictably, many comments 
reflected this sentiment: 

What's anarchistic with worshipping and 
serving a man, anyways? Socialist perhaps... 
fascistic, absolutely. 

Many anarchists I know assume that, at best, Christian 
anarchists are either anarchists who refuse to let go of 
their childhood fantasies or Christians who really don't 
understand anarchism. I suspect that their suspicions are 
often correct. 

Anarchism, particularly as a loose set of principles, 
doesn't often "play well" with Christianity. For one to be a 
Christian anarchist, one would be considered fringe by the 
vast majority of Christians in history. But one would also 
be considered fringe by most anarchists as well. After all, 



50 



"no gods, no masters" is a well-embraced slogan by many 
—if not most— anarchists. 

According to the Anarchist FAQ: 

So there is a minority tradition within 
anarchism which draws anarchist conclusions 
from religion. However, as we noted in section 
A.2.20, most anarchists disagree, arguing that 
anarchism implies atheism and it is no 
coincidence that biblical thought has, 
historically, been associated with hierarchy 
and defense of earthly rulers. Thus the vast 
majority of anarchists have been and are 
atheists, for "to worship or revere any being, 
natural or supernatural, will always be a form 
of self-subjugation and servitude that will give 
rise to social domination. As [Bookchin] 
writes: 'The moment that human beings fall 
on their knees before anything that is 'higher' 
than themselves, hierarchy will have made its 
first triumph over freedom.'" 

...Clearly, a Christian anarchist would have to 
be as highly selective as non-anarchist 
believers when it comes to applying the 
teachings of the Bible... if non-anarchist 
believers are to be considered as ignoring the 
teachings of the Bible by anarchist ones, the 
same can be said of them by those they 
attack... 

Moreover the idea that Christianity is basically 
anarchism is hard to reconcile with its history. 
The Bible has been used to defend injustice far 
more than it has been to combat it. In 
countries where Churches hold de facto 
political power, such as in Ireland, in parts of 



51 



South America, in nineteenth and early 
twentieth century Spain and so forth, typically 
anarchists are strongly anti-religious because 
the Church has the power to suppress dissent 
and class struggle. Thus the actual role of the 
Church belies the claim that the Bible is an 
anarchist text. 1 

Before I dig in, I want to raise, as honestly as possible, 
some of the challenges in pairing "Christianity" with 
"anarchism." I'm not talking about the obvious ones that 
your gun-toting baptist uncle would tell you. I'm talking 
about the tensions that arise between Christian anarchists 
and "secular" anarchists. This isn't an exhaustive list, but 
they are the ones I hear most often. 



Religion is based upon domination... 

Sure. Some definitions of religion assume a controlling 
dominant God. Furthermore, most definitions and 
expressions of religion also assume social structures and 
hierarchies that most anarchists reject. Christian 
anarchists usually get at this in one of two ways: a) They 
say the anarchist critique doesn't apply to God and God- 
ordained systems. ..that anarchism is only about "man- 
made" things, b) They suggest that it is possible to hold 
communally shared spiritual beliefs and practices and 
stories without affirming social hierarchies and authority 
(as typically defined). 

I fall into that second category. I don't believe that it 
makes any sense to say "God is such a big King that he 
obliterates all other kings... therefore, I'm an anarchist." 
Rather, I would say "The way in which God sustains and 



l See section A.3.7 of the Anarchist FAQ, which is available at 
infoshop.org. 



52 



shapes existence. ..and calls us to be in deeper relationship 
is the opposite of how Kings function. ..therefore, I am an 
anarchist." To quote the late Dorothee Soelle: 

Obedience presupposes duality: one who 
speaks and one who listens; one who knows 
and one who is ignorant; a ruler and ruled 
ones. Religious groups who broke away from 
the spirit of dependency and obedience 
cherish different values such as mutuality and 
interdependence... The main virtue of an 
authoritarian religion is obedience. ..God's 
love and righteousness are less important 
than God's power... why do people worship a 
God whose supreme quality is power, not 
justice; whose interest lies in subjection, not 
in mutuality; who fears equality?" 2 

Jesus is an unking. To me, this doesn't simply mean he is 
not a king. Rather, he is the king who subverts kingship. 
He isn't simply the opposite of a king, rather, he is 
something far deeper— he transcends and excludes 
kingship. I worship the one who calls me friend. But I 
don't think it would be accurate to say that I "obey" him in 
the way that servants obey masters. That is just a first 
step-a metaphor. Just as most green anarchists believe 
they should respect, cherish, and affirm nature, I am 
called to worship and love the source of life. Semantics? 
Not to me. 



Christianity affirms submission... 

What do we do about the very clear language of 
discipleship and submission in the New Testament? I've 



2 Dorothee Soelle, Beyond Mere Obedience (New York: The 
Pilgrim Press, 1982), xiii-xiv 



53 



already explored the anarchist impulse in the New 
Testament, so I'm not going to argue about whether or not 
the New Testament supports social hierarchies (I think 
some of it does, and some of it doesn't-but I don't 
worship the New Testament. ..nor do I think my goal in 
life is to follow the New Testament). Rather, my focus 
here is how one can be anti-authoritarian and still affirm 
discipleship and submission. 

Let's tackle submission first. I'm a big fan of mutual 
submission (all of those one-another statements in the 
New Testament make it clear that our goal is 
interdependence and mutuality, not independence and 
individual freedom). To me, this shouldn't pose a problem 
for anarcho-communists or those groups who affirm 
consensus. After all, consensus is almost a structure for 
mutual submission. However, mutual submission goes 
deeper than consensus. Consensus recognizes the value of 
each voice. But, as the apostle Paul teaches regarding 
spiritual gifts and mutuality, sometimes we need to 
submit to the one in our midst who is clearly speaking a 
spirit-filled word. 

Our goal isn't simply to all agree with one another. 
Rather, it is to discern the Spirit in our midst, and all 
agree together concerning the way in which the Spirit is 
moving. 

And it is assumed that there are some who are wiser about 
discerning the Spirit-who have deeper practices in the 
way of Jesus. These folks are often considered elders and 
they can mentor folks just starting out in the way of Jesus. 
This is what discipleship is all about. Is it hierarchical? 
Perhaps, but if it is, it is a dynamic hierarchy rather than a 
static one. The goal of discipleship should never be to 
have permanent leaders. Rather, it should be to recognize 
wisdom where it is found, and to learn from that wisdom. 
Most anarchists do that. 



54 



Christian anarchists reject violence... 

Not all Christian anarchists are pacifists. And not all 
"secular" anarchists reject nonviolence. Nevertheless, 
Christian anarchists tend towards pacifism. While some 
groups (like traditional Anabaptists) embrace a meeker 
pacifism of passive nonresistance, most Christian groups 
with an anarchic impulse support a more proactive 
nonviolence. Many Christian anarchists are nonviolent 
because Jesus' challenged his followers to love their 
enemies and "turn the other cheek" when struck. For 
many (if not most) Christian anarchists, the anarchic 
vision begins with Jesus' loving mutuality that challenges 
social divisions and triumphs over the Powers. 

Furthermore, many Christian anarchists are inspired by a 
future vision of shalom free from violence (even violence 
against non-human animals). And, since many also 
believe (a belief exemplified, perhaps, by the Quakers) 
that the Inner Light exists within all people, Christian 
anarchism tends to have a hopeful view of God's ability to 
transform all people. 

To many anarchists, these items of faith are foolish 
distractions that, at best, make Christian anarchists dopey 
and irrelevant. At worst, Christian anarchists are pawns of 
oppression (folks like Ward Churchill and Peter 
Gelderloos have been particularly vocal in rejecting 
anarcho-pacifism). 

To be fair, this tension exists apart from Christian 
anarchism, though most proponents of nonviolence have 
been influenced by those great modern figures who were, 
in turn, influenced by Jesus Christ (such as Tolstoy, 
Gandhi, and King). 



55 



To be honest, I'm not sure I see this tension ever being 
resolved. Perhaps the best way to live with each other in 
our shared hopes for a new world is for proponents of 
nonviolence to remain humble about their critique of 
revolutionary violence 3 while those who want to utilize a 
"diversity of tactics" should recognize the wisdom to be 
learned from nonviolent traditions. 

It is also important, I think, to remember that Jesus' 
teachings aren't the same as Gandhi's. Many Christians 
have mistakenly assumed, based upon Jesus' life and 
teachings, that everything we usually identify as "violent" 
is off-limits. Yet clearly, Jesus engaged in such things as 
property destruction, verbal abuse, and civil disobedience. 
Rather than developing an absolutist code, we should 
engage Scripture in the midst of the practice of communal 
discernment in particular contexts and let things develop 
from there. 



Christian anarchists don't resist the State... 

Most anarchists are against structures like the State, 
whereas many Christian anarchists are merely indifferent 
to the State, advocating a sort of "Two Kingdoms" 
theology. 

This is a subtle issue. Many traditional Anabaptists and 
many neo-Anabaptists hold the view that there are two 
kingdoms, each of which should be kept totally separate. 
The idea is that, once you become a Christian, you have 
nothing to do with the kingdom of the world, since you 
are now a part of the Kingdom of God. You can't be a 



For a great article on this, see Nichola Torbett's "Confessing 
Pacifism, Repenting in Love" which was published by Jesus 
Radicals online at: 

www.jesusradicals.com/confessing-pacifism-repenting-in- 
love 



56 



soldier or in the government. You shouldn't vote. But, if 
folks want to be soldiers or in the government or engage 
in oppression in that "other" kingdom-the kingdom of 
this world-that is their choice and we should leave them 
to it. We'll render to God what is God's and let Caesar go 
about his business. 

This has led some folks (like Greg Boyd) to conclude that 
we shouldn't get involved with protesting. Many who have 
read Boyd and Yoder come to the conclusion that our 
prophetic witness is in being a Kingdom alternative, not 
in directly challenging the State (or, perhaps, other 
structures of oppression?). 

I reject this line of thinking, as do many other Christian 
anarchists. I don't believe that our only witness results in 
pulling people out of oppressive structures into radical 
Christian community. I used to think that way, but I've 
found that you can't create a healthy alternative without 
also becoming adept at naming and engaging in acts of 
resistance against systems of oppression. Yes, there is a 
danger of simply getting sucked into the system with its 
ways of managing oppression. But if we are too afraid of 
getting our hands "dirty," we may simply end up with 
little farms and urban intentional communities that think 
they are free from taint, yet still (unwittingly) embodying 
the oppressiveness found in larger society within their 
own mini-societies. I find that naming oppression within 
myself requires naming oppression that I see in the world. 

At least Christianity is diverse... 

I am a white male. And so are a majority of self-described 
anarchists. However, most self-described Christians are 
neither white nor male. This is due to a whole host of 
reasons (having to do with the history of colonialism and 
the birth of early anarchism). This difference is probably 



57 



worthy of its own book (by someone far better suited for 
addressing it than I). However, it remains that 
Christianity has found ways of sparking liberatory 
imagination among marginalized groups in ways that isn't 
exactly true of anarchism. This isn't because of the 
superiority of Christianity (history reveals that 
Christianity has been fairly inept at undoing oppressions). 
And it may be because 1 billion people are more likely to 
nurture pockets of diversity than thousands of anarchists 
are. Nevertheless, the diversity of Christian expressions 
provides more opportunities for people of color, older 
people, and non-males to have a voice. 

It is challenging to find a place within anarchist circles if 
you aren't a white male. When you join Christianity and 
anarchism, it gets even harder to nurture a safe place. It is 
like combining the whiteness of anarchism with the 
heteronormativity and latent patriarchalism of 
Christianity. Which certainly gives us a great deal to work 
on here, doesn't it? 



* * * * * 



The challenge here, I think, is to recognize that it is fair to 
see Christian anarchism as both a part of the development 
of early anarchism as well as a unique tradition in its own 
right. Whether we like it or not, those who embrace 
Christian anarchism are going to find it difficult to really 
"fit in" with the mainstream anarchist crowd or with the 
mainstream Christian crowd. 

The temptation is to try to force it. To try to show why our 
views fit "perfectly" within our theological traditions or to 
show anarchists how we're just like them (except that we 
pray). I don't think we should try too hard to fit in at all, 
rather, we should own our peculiarity and let it become 
our strength. Let us focus on how we can offer a unique 
perspective and give flesh to that perspective. Instead of 



58 



trying to blend in, we should find a way to speak boldly 
and forge a path that seeks to be faithful to the way of 
Jesus in increasingly poignant ways. 



59 



Further Reading 



Michael Bakunin, God and the State, Mineola, New York: 
Dover Publications, 1970. 

Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State, 
Cambridge, Massachusetts, South End Press, 2007. 



60 



6 

The unKingdom of God is Here 

There is a very real temptation, when exploring the 
intersection of Christianity and anarchism, to simply force 
one category into the other. I see this all the time. 

There are those who simply believe that their Christian 
tradition is so inherently anarchistic that they can simply 
"claim" anarchism. They trump all other anarchisms in 
such a way as to dismiss them entirely. There is a danger 
in this: it creates theological ghettos increasingly unable 
to respond to current political and spiritual crises. Those 
who live in theological ghettos assume that everyone else 
should be like them. Meanwhile the world and its people 
continue to rush headlong towards the abyss. 

And there are those who see Christianity as a useful tool 
on one's journey towards anarchism. They see anti- 
domination as their true god, and even Christ serves to 
bring people to this god. The danger of this temptation is 
that anything sacred becomes scrapped for parts to a 
cause that will never arrive. The inner transformation 
necessary for social liberation cannot be obtained simply 
through structural analysis. There is a reason Marx was 
never a Marxist. There is a reason why some of my most 
brilliantly anarchistic friends come off as authoritarian. 
There is simply more oppressing us than social structures. 
And more is required for us to embrace our fullest 
humanity than tearing down oppressive structures and 
replacing them with our clever Utopias. 

If one is a Christian anarchist, who largely congregates 
with other anarchists, then it could easily be understood 
that one's Christianity is simply their own flavor of 

61 



anarchism. And, when it comes down to it, anarchism is 
what it's all about. Likewise, if one is a Christian 
anarchist, then one could easily feel that one's anarchism 
is simply a political affiliation... and that, being in 
fellowship with militaristic Capitalist patriotic Christians 
is more important than seeking liberation. Neither appeal 
to me. 

The best way forward, it seems to me, is to be rooted in 
the particularity of the story of Jesus and the church. I 
assume-and I realize this is a big assumption-that Jesus 
shows us a bold new way to be human: a way that not only 
challenges domination, but also transforms us. It is more 
than political (but isn't less than political... it offers real 
insight in how we live together in communities of 
practice). But it is also more than spiritual (but it isn't less 
than spiritual... it offers real insight in how our hearts can 
be animated by the Spirit of God). The way of Jesus is 
integrated; the "unkingdom of God" confronts our 
political, economic, religious realities. It challenges both 
the social world and our interior spaces. 

A Christian anarchism must be rooted in Jesus' vision. 
However, I don't believe we can really live into that vision 
without learning from sources outside of the Christian 
tradition. We can't bible-study our way past our 
imaginative impasse. Our tradition is so enmeshed within 
the story of imperialism that we must be open to external 
critiques of both imperialism and Christianity. 

It is bad enough that our Christianity has fueled 
imperialism. If the story ended there, we could simply 
stop contributing to the imperial machine and try to fix 
things. Christianity not only injected some of its DNA into 
Empire (thus Christianizing empire), but empire has 
injected its DNA into Christianity, thus imperializing our 
Christianity. It is almost impossible to understand how 
deep the infection goes. 



62 



Ours is a faith that has, largely, worked in opposition to 
its Object. Christendom has, in its imperial journey, cast 
out much of its anti-imperial core like demons. The 
Gospel has been rendered Satanic and the Satanic has 
become the Gospel. 

And so, we need to relearn the Way of Jesus. And we need 
to develop practices to help us in this pedagogical task. If 
we simply retreat into the safe confines of traditional 
Christianity, we treat the living Christ as a dead man, one 
who left us timeless wisdom. Likewise, if we rush into 
anarchist critiques without a real sense of the mystical 
presence of Christ, we are simply tearing down the lego- 
castle of oppression and using those lego blocks to 
construct our Utopias. 

So then, how do we proceed? Do we simply smash 
Christianity and anarchism together into some sort of 
strained mashup? This is a more difficult task than it 
might seem at first. Many Christian anarchists have no 
idea how to put these two things together in any way that 
makes sense to them. They simply hold one tradition in 
each hand, ignoring the conflict they feel until, eventually, 
they let go of one of them. 

I don't think of "Christian anarchism" as one subset of 
anarchism. Nor do I think of it as a subset of Christianity. 
Approaching things that way is helpful only to a point- 
because, in the end, it renders being either Christian or 
anarchist into an "optional" addition to one's primary 
identity. We need to resist the temptation to see Christian 
anarchism as a category of people. ..or as a faction. 

Christian anarchism is perhaps better understood as an 
interpretation, a way of understanding the "unkingdom of 
God." 

Or we may see Christian anarchism as a dialogue about 
the shape of revolutionary practice. This follows the logic 



63 



of David Graeber in Fragments of an Anarchist 
Anthropology, where he suggests, "anarchism has tended 
to be an ethical discourse about revolutionary practice" 
rather than a theory-driven endeavor. 

The Particularity of Christian Anarchism 

Language will always fail to describe the strange 
relationship between the Way of Jesus and anarchistic 
political impulses. There are some real downsides to 
identifying as a "Christian anarchist." The stress naturally 
falls on one of the two words as though they are two 
separate things smashed together, unreconcilable into any 
cohesive whole. 

I've toyed with alternative language: anarcho-Christianity, 
Christarchy, Christianarchy, Christo-anarchy, etc. All of 
these get at an important truth, but fail to resolve the 
tension without over-emphasizing one aspect. 1 Even my 
own affinity for a phrase like the "unkingdom of God" is 
often too confusing to be helpful in polite conversation. 2 
Because fresh names allow for greater definitional 
freedom, I have taken to using the phrase "Christo- 



For example, "Christarchy" signifies the reign of Christ, but 
doesn't qualify the nature of that reign as, basically, an un- 
reign. "Christianarchy" sounds like the reign of Christians. 
"Anarcho-Christianity" or "Christo-anarchy" come closest to 
creating an appropriately blurry tension, but each stresses 
one part of the equation more than the other. None, in 
reality, evoke a new imagination— drawing us to a way of 
thinking that moves beyond classical anarchism or 
traditional mainstream Christianity. 

I recognize that the best conversations are neither polite nor 
free from confusion 



64 



anarchism." 3 Nevertheless, the "name" isn't as important 
as the perspective it signifies: 

Christo-anarchism refers not only to the 
insight that Jesus' vision of the [un] Kingdom 
of God has anarchic (anti-domination) 
implications, but also the assumption that, 
only by nurturing practices centered on the 
presence of the Living Christ, can we move 
from domination to non-domination, from 
death to life, from oppression to liberation, 
and from alienation to love. 

This is my suggestion of a starting point for thinking 
about Christo-anarchism. To me, this "definition" (I'm 
reluctant to call it a definition) addresses several 
important concerns: 

1) It doesn't diminish that there are practical anarchic 
implications to Jesus' vision. This opens up space to learn 
from other anarchistic groups and discerningly adopt 
their practices as an expression of Jesus' vision. This 
allows us to dialogue and learn from "secular" anarchists 
in a way that focuses on shared commitments to anti- 
domination. Working together doesn't depend upon 
having a shared theology or shared spirituality. 

2) It centers practice on the Risen Christ, rather than on 
abstracted principles gleaned from Scripture. This places 
Christo-anarchism clearly into the realm of mystical 
anarchism, rather than merely "materialist" anarchism 
(though I realize that it is possible to be both a materialist 
and a mystic). 



I choose "Christo-anarchism" for several reasons. Firstly, it 
corresponds and subverts the ideology that Dorothee 
Soelle's has named "Christo-fascism." Secondly, it 
emphasizes Christ rather than Christianity. Thirdly, Christo- 
anarchism suggests "anarchism in the way of Jesus". 



65 



3) The emphasis is on nurturing practices. Most 
anarchists recognize that our practices today should point 
to the future we long for (this is called "prefigurative 
politics"). Likewise, whatever practice we employ should 
embody a Christo-anarchist politics. However, they 
should be accessible to other Christians, thus building a 
bridge with other Christian groups who don't share our 
analysis. Much like anarchists contributed to group 
processes for the Occupy Movement, Christo-anarchists 
can share practices with the larger Body of Christ even if 
they don't affirm the rationale for these practices. 

4) The goal here is process and movement, not in 
developing an ideological Utopia. There is a real tendency 
to "blueprint" our Utopian communities. That is, we use 
our imaginations to think of an ideal community or 
approach and then attempt to create it, often stepping on 
people along the way. Our emphasis should be on being 
transformed as well as in transforming. We should 
discern together, step by step, as we come to learn Jesus' 
fresh vision for our communities. It isn't sufficient to 
engage in Biblical hermeneutics, extract Biblical 
principles, and then attempt to bring them to life by 
enforcing them into a community. Our current social, 
political, and spiritual crises aren't due to a lack of utopic 
visions. Nor is it a failure of biblical interpretation. 
Rather, it is a failure of discernment. 4 

Mystical Christo-Anarchist Practices 

I'm going to resist the temptation to lay out a string of the 

4 Indeed, when Paul issued his challenge to Corinth (1 Cor. 
11:29) o ver the injustices around the Lord's Supper, the core 
failure wasn't simply a lack of analysis. No, he saw it as a 
failure in "discerning the body of Christ." One can have the 
right analysis and still fail to see things for what they are. 

66 



usual anarchist practices. I've already named the tendency 
to "blueprint" our Utopian visions. It would be iiber-lame 
of me to name that tendency only to proceed to lay out a 
blueprint. However, I do have some suggestions for 
practices (perhaps they could be considered meta- 
practices) that will help us to discern the shape and 
practice of Christo-anarchism in our own particular 
contexts. 

We need practices that help us learn the way of Jesus, not 
just practices that help us implement the way of Jesus. It's 
not just about doing good in this world; it is part of our 
imperial training for us to assume that we know what is 
good... what is best... and to then force the world to 
conform to that vision. Rather, these practices are about 
helping us see the world differently and then acting in 
that world in a way that is transformative. 5 Our most 
pressing need is for practices that help us see the world 
through a different lens than that of imperial myth and 
civilizational programming. 

To me, this is a mystical endeavor. Mysticism, as I 
understand it, is direct encounter with the Divine. It isn't 
a disembodied experience; it is deeply tangible. In our 
world, we experience separation and alienation from God, 
from one another, and from the land beneath our feet. 
Mysticism isn't an escape from these realities; it is seeing 
what is real. Any time we experience the demolishing of 



I'm trying to use the word "transform" in the Freirean sense: 
"[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she 
enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can 
transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to 
listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to 
meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This 
person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of 
history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but 
he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to 
fight at their side." - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the 
Oppressed (New York: Continuum, 2000), p. 39 



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the walls of separation-when we feel the presence of God, 
when we meaningfully and truly connect with one another 
in human relationships, when we feel as though we are an 
integral part of creation along with the trees and the soil 
and the daffodils and nonhuman animals-it is a mystical 
moment. To be mystics is to experience reality. And the 
goal of anarchists of all varieties is to reject that which is 
unreal-the principalities and powers (the abstract 
structures that manage creation and humanity)-and to 
live the way humanity is suppose to live. 

I offer, then, these practices as a starting point. They 
aren't even remotely exhaustive. But I am convinced they 
are excellent places to begin our journey to see the 
inbreaking of the unKingdom of God in our midst: 

1) We need to tell the stories of the places in which we live 
from the vantage point of the oppressed. If we are going 
to develop practices that show love to one another and to 
the land under our feet, we need to embrace the 
confessional practice of truth-telling. I live in 
Minneapolis. It isn't far from the place the Dakota believe 
is the source of the Dakota people. Minneapolis began as 
an occupation. Fort Snelling was built upon what many of 
us might see as the Dakota "Garden of Eden" in order to 
break the spirits of a people. It was a staging ground for 
assaults against the Dakota. Many were forced into camps 
there and shipped to other places in the United States. 
Many died in these camps. There is, of course, much more 
to this story. But, the more I tell the untold story of this 
place, the less that the civilizational myths (that 
Minnesota was born in the mid 1800s as settlers came 
and made the land productive, eventually creating the 
State of Minnesota-the 32nd territory to join the United 
States, etc) hold power over my imagination. 

2) We need to honestly tell the story of how we relate to 
the places in which we live. If I am going to come to terms 



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with the domination in my own heart, I need to explore 
my identity in relationship to the place in which I live. 
This is the only way I can begin to break the "spell" over 
my imagination that sees myself as an American citizen, 
or as an individual consumer, or as a thing called a "white 
man." By telling the stories of our places and telling our 
own stories, we can can work through the layers of 
conditioning and myth and propaganda. We can begin, 
slowly, to relate to each other in truth. 

3) We need to experiment towards a gift economy. 
Simone Weil believed that money was the single greatest 
contributing factor in creating uprootedness (the 
experience of alienation from place, people, and God). As 
communities, we need to explore different ways of living 
outside of currency transactions. This is not only a good 
practice in general (for issues of justice), but it is a 
mystical practice. The use of money reinforces a great 
number of myths in our society-it keeps us from seeing 
things as they are, and instead shapes a worldview that 
sees relationships as transactional and creation as a set of 
commodities. As Christians, our gift economy should be 
rooted in our practice of the Lord's Supper, where we 
discern the Body and practice Jubilee. 

4) We should develop practices of silence and communal 
discernment. The Quakers are onto something important. 
Spiritual discernment that allows for silence is beautiful 
and necessary. Long-time Quakers will tell you that their 
communal discernment practices are far from perfect. But 
they offer a way into a life of discernment. I'm not simply 
talking about consensus-based decision making (which is 
important, to be sure). Rather, I am talking about 
discernment: hearing God and one another in a shared 
space. Decision-making need not be the goal. We need to 
listen to the Holy Spirit, rather than simply reading about 
how the Holy Spirit communicated to dead Apostles. In a 



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noisy world of over-information, communal discernment 
is more essential than ever. 

5) We must enter into real relationships with the 
marginalized. And if we consider ourselves among the 
marginalized, we should develop relationships with other 
marginalized people in our places. This is the idea behind 
Segundo Galilea's "integral liberation": Humans are not 
able to find true compassion, nor create structures of deep 
transformation, without entering into Jesus' own 
compassion, which is incarnate in the poor and 
marginalized. Being "aware" of social injustice doesn't 
collapse the alienation experienced between human 
beings. We must nurture real relationships, relatively free 
from agenda, before we develop strong conclusions about 
what justice looks like. 

* * * * * 

This is, of course, a small beginning. But I can only begin 
with those practices that have helped me see the world 
differently. They are process-oriented practices that, in 
and of themselves, aren't particularly Utopian (though 
they are still prefigurative). However, they are practices 
that can help us discern and develop concreted practices 
for the places we inhabit. 

My hope in this final chapter was to express a shift: a shift 
away from seeing Christian anarchism as a set of beliefs 
and ideals, as well as a shift away from seeing it as a 
category or a faction. Rather, I want to see it as a way of 
interpreting and as a set of practices first and foremost. 
Certainly, likeminded communities are bound to network 
and organize around common ideals and convictions. This 
is important and good. But in that networking and 
organizing, I believe our focus should be on engaging the 
Living Christ. 



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As a friend of mine once told me: "All we have to offer the 
world is the Presence of God." I agree. I believe that this 
Presence tears down walls of alienation. And that is, in so 
many important ways, an anarchist project. 



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